18 STAR AND 13 STRIPES, MADE TO CELEBRATE THE ADMISSION OF LOUISIANA AS THE 18TH STATE, 1876-1892:
18-star, 13-stripe American national flag, made sometime in the period between 1876 and the 1890's to commemorate the admission of Louisiana as the 18th state. Among surviving flags, 18 is one of the rarest counts. Just one example is known to exist from the four-year period in which there were 18 states (1812-1816) and only a small handful of others survive that date to the second half of the 19th century.
In 1803, Thomas Jefferson oversaw the Louisiana purchase, an acquisition of more than 800,000 square miles of land from France. This would eventually encompass all or a portion of 15 future states and 2 Canadian provinces. This included New Orleans, which at the time had a population of about 10,000 and ranked among the U.S.'s 10 largest cities.
Louisiana became a state unto itself on April 30th, 1812, representing approximately 50,000 square miles of the original tract. At the time the national flag officially had 15 stars and 15 stripes, subject to the Second Flag Act, which passed on January 13th, 1794 and took effect on May 1st, 1795.
The flag did not officially change again until the Third Flag Act was passed on April 3rd of 1818, following the addition of 5 more states. This took the official count from 15 stars to 20 and reduced the stripe count to 13. Official is the operative word, because the makers of flags, both at home and in commercial settings, took great liberty with flag design throughout the 19th century. Most added a star as soon as a new state came in. In fact, in the case of certain states, evidence clearly shows that they did so months or even years beforehand. This was especially true between the Civil War (1861-65) and the first decade of the 20th century.
During the period between 1792 and 1818, stripes were generally added along with stars. During congressional discussions in 1817, a speaker pointed out that there was a flag with 18 stars and 18 stripes flying over the Washington Navy Yard, while another with 7 stripes was flying over the U.S. Capitol. The reason for 7 stripes is not known, but odd irregularities of this sort are sometimes present among the earliest examples.
Today just one 18-star, 18-stripe flag survives in the collection of the Louisiana State Museum. The flag is said to have been sewn for Colonel Philip Hickey, an officer in the War of 1812, a wealthy plantation owner and future Louisiana senator. The flag was made from silk dresses by the ladies of Hope Estate, one of his large plantations. Hickey desired a flag with 18 stars and 18 stripes to be present on the day of Louisiana's acceptance, to be displayed in patriotic celebration. It is said that he had ordered one from a commercial source, possibly the Washington Navy Yard, but was afraid that it would not arrive in time.
A tiny handful of 18 star flags exist that were made later, after we had more than 18 states. These "out-of-period" examples are thought to have been produced to commemorate Louisiana statehood. Out-of-period flags with star counts between 14 and 19 (those that reflect the era in which the number of stripes was increased) are usually complimented by 13 stripes instead of a matching count.
This 18-star, 13-stripe flag may have been made in 1876 for display at the Louisiana pavilion at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, This was a World's Fair event that took place in the year of our nation's 100-year anniversary of independence from Great Britain. It may alternatively have been made for the 75th anniversary of Louisiana statehood, in 1887, for celebrations that took place within the state itself. Or it may have been produced for the World Columbian Exposition (a.k.a. the Chicago World's Fair), which was planned for 1892 to celebrate 400 years of Columbus's landing, but which actually took place in 1893.
The flag has a wide hoist binding, made of heavy cotton twill, with 2 brass grommets, placed in the extreme corners. The canton and stripes are made of wool bunting that has been pieced with treadle stitching. The materials are consistent with those present on the majority of sewn flags produced between the Civil War (1861-1865) and 1912. The stars are basically oriented with one point upward throughout the arrangement of staggered rows in counts of 4-3-4-3-4. Note how their profiles are curved, however, with irregular, folk qualities that are especially attractive. These characteristics are more consistent with the pre-1890 era, after which flags became much more plain and standardized.
The stars are made of cotton and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with a treadle machine. This stitch is most often seen on flags made around 1890, give or take a few years. Before 1890, most stars were sewn by hand. While a lineal machine stitch can be seen in appliquéd stars as early as 1861, it is a scarce exception as opposed to the rule. It was very difficult to pump the treadle mechanism with one's foot, while tucking the edge of the white fabric under to properly execute the appliqué work, and at the same time rotating the blue fabric so as to finely trace the perimeter of the star with the sewing mechanism. As time passed, skill with treadle machines improved and it became more common, but seamstresses generally found this method impractical until the advent of electric machines, which Singer introduced for the first time in 1889.
In 1892, the zigzag machine stitch was patented for the application of stars. This allowed the edges of the stars to be left raw, while the zigzag stitch wound back-and-forth over the edges to bind them like a blanket stitch. This revolutionized flag manufacture. It soon became the primary method of applying stars and remained so for the next 50 years. The period between the late 1880's and the 1890's was a transitional one. It is during this small window when the largest number of flags is seen with lineal, machine-sewn stars.
In summary, while the precise date remains unknown, the flag's construction is consistent with the 1876 - 1892 era. Persons desiring to own an early flag with 18 stars have few choices. This one is among fewer than 10 known that date to the nineteenth century, is relatively small in scale for the period, has wonderful visual features, and would be an excellent addition to any collection.
Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza on every seam and throughout the star field for support. It was then sewn to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, which has been washed to reduce excess dye. And acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. The mount was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding with a serpentine profile and a rippled inner edge. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.
Condition: Excellent for the period. There is very minor mothing throughout, accompanied by very minor foxing and staining.